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Despite Efforts to Shun Spotlight, Ed Birch’s Star Shines Ever So Brighter

Santa Barbara Foundation’s Man of the Year may prefer the background but recognition proves his role at the center of community

Ed Birch will receive the Santa Barbara Foundation’s Man of the Year award this week for his commitment to philanthropy. “It’s hugely rewarding,” he says of his dedication to the community. “It’s hard not to want to be involved.” Click to view larger
Ed Birch will receive the Santa Barbara Foundation’s Man of the Year award this week for his commitment to philanthropy. “It’s hugely rewarding,” he says of his dedication to the community. “It’s hard not to want to be involved.” (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)

Ed Birch’s name just climbed atop a lofty list where he never imagined it would be.

Sure, he’s used his position as a seasoned Santa Barbara banker and higher education administrator to identify and assist philanthropic organizations in need.

But he didn’t do it for the recognition. Definitely not for the publicity.

“It’s hugely rewarding,” the humble 78-year-old Birch said of his commitment to the community. “It’s hard not to want to be involved.”

Nonetheless, Birch will receive the 73rd Man of the Year Award from the Santa Barbara Foundation during a ceremony Wednesday at the Coral Casino Beach & Cabana Club at the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara.

Vicki Hazard will be honored with the 73rd Woman of the Year Award at the event, which is sponsored by the Santa Barbara Foundation, Montecito Bank & Trust and Noozhawk.

Birch recently shared with Noozhawk the story of how he ended up in Santa Barbara. The conversation took place in his second-floor office in La Arcada, where he serves as president and CEO of the Samuel B. and Margaret C. Mosher Foundation.

After growing up in New York — where he met his wife, Sue, in the fifth grade — Birch spent much of his young adult life studying and then working in universities in Michigan and Ohio.

He was vice president of Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio, when he was recruited in 1976 to become vice chancellor at UC Santa Barbara.

Birch didn’t know much about the seaside community, but he quickly found his passion here in the education, banking and nonprofit sectors.

An economist by trade, Birch said he got to “have my cake and eat it, too” by working on the business side of higher education.

In 1993, he became board chairman at Santa Barbara Bank & Trust and is still involved post-merger with Union Bank. He maintained finances for the Mosher family and Westmont College, remaining active today on boards at Westmont and the UCSB Foundation.

“Things just fell in place very nicely,” Birch said.

The Birches focus philanthropic efforts on the “make-a-difference” causes, mostly in health care, education and the arts.

In 2015, the couple helped lead Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics out of a financial crisis. They were instrumental in establishing the Youth Audience Program at Community Arts Music Association (CAMA).

Birch is also involved with All Saints By-the-Sea Episcopal Church, the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy, the Music Academy of the West, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden and CALM (Child Abuse Listening Mediation).

He spends his free time visiting with two daughters and four grandchildren, golfing, gardening and biking with friends every Saturday morning.

Retirement for Birch means doing the things you want to do, which is probably why he has technically retired three times.

In every case, he enjoys staying busy and committed to a cause. It’s undoubtedly why Birch was too preoccupied to notice how noteworthy his work really was.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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